Interview of an expatriate New Yorker... By Rémi & Vincent

In which part of New York did you live?
Manhattan… You have to know that if someone says that he/she lives in New York it means they live in Manhattan otherwise they will specify another borough.

When did you live there?
I was born in New York City and I lived there for a couple of years, then I went to Washington DC, and I returned to New York afterwards.

What, for you, is the “American dream”?
The stereotype of the American dream  is to be very rich and famous. I never really believed in it that much because I don’t think that being rich or famous brings happiness.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the American dream; do you think that it was used to attract people from the “old continent”?
There is indeed the idea of freedom symbolized by this monument but the American dream is way more ancient than that. The first European people who arrived in America left Europe because of persecutions, therefore they searched for the promise land with the freedom to speak, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear...

Do you think that New York represents the American dream?
It did in the 19th century… Now, probably, living in New York, Los Angeles or any other big city in the US is seen as a good thing and symbols of the American dream may contribute to that.

What is the role of  New York today, is it financial, political?
It definitely is financial as Wall Street has a very symbolic importance. New York has also a cultural role with Classical music, the arts in general and Broadway. Moreover, New York still has an educational importance with prestigious universities. You have to keep in mind that New York is a sort of counter-power to Washington.

Do you think that New Yorkers are proud of traders?
Wall Steet is part of New York, it is historically very important as it is situated in the oldest part of New York (the south of Manhattan is the oldest part of the city). I am not sure they like them. Traders are part of New York but Wall Street is not NYC.

Are they considered as evil?
A lot has changed since I lived there. Finance has always been a part of New York, but there have been a lot of scandals on Wall Street which made New Yorkers loose some of their confidence in it.

How do you feel about the evolution of the city?
It is a lot better now on certain aspects. It definitely is a safer place to be in but it is even more expensive than before to live there. Money has even more importance than before which is maybe not such a good thing…

What memories do you have of the city?
One thing I do remember, it was on my 16th birthday, I had lunch on top of the World Trade Center and I remember realizing that the towers actually moved, that was very scary... And realizing also that New York is actually a port city which you don’t really see when you’re in town. I also remember being in Central Park which is, according to me, the greatest place in the world!

Which country do you prefer?
I don’t think I could answer that as I’ve not lived in the US for a long time. I think things change very very quickly. There are always things changing in New York, all the time. Remember the emblematic song: “New York, New York, the city that never sleeps”.

Are New Yorkers proud of their cultural heritage? Do they try to protect it or has it no importance for them?
It’s part of their life, they want to protect it a little bit, it is part of their daily life, it is their way of being and behaving. They accept differences and they don’t really think about it that much.

According to you, what is the New York way of life?
Maybe to accept differences? Though from different origins, cultures, etc., people manage to get along.

How did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center?
I was living in Thaïland at the time. On that day my sister called me and told me to prepare as there was going to be a Third World War. That was also the feeling I had, I couldn’t believe it, I was totally shocked out of my mind, this was so unreal, it just was not possible (I watched on TV that plane crashing into this building over and over again...). New York smelt of decayed bodies for weeks after that... It was the end of a feeling of security as the US had never been attacked on its own territory before. It was a mixture of fear and shock.

Do you think it changed the New Yorkers’ way of life?
Definitely it did because the idea that they might have to undergo some massive attack by a foreign force on US soil was unbelievable (America was the “sacred land”). People are scared now and it was probably a lot more traumatizing for New Yorkers. This also transformed firemen into heroes for the population, and fear against Arabs increased which was different from the American ideal if you think about it... This resulted in drastically increasing security in airports. Unfortunately it can happen again...

What do you feel about the memorial?
I think this is a controversial memorial... It is good that there is one but I fear that it will only become a tourist attraction. We’re not going to remain traumatized, but this attack changed the way people see things. New Yorkers are pretty pragmatic, there is just one day free to commemorate all the wars (this is different from France). 

And what about the project of building a mosque near the memorial?
It is a good thing to build some place to pray near this area of tragedy but does it have to be that? I don’t know, I would have preferred maybe not something as controversial but maybe it is a good symbol of reconciliation (it was not an attack by Muslims but by dangerous fanatics...).

What does "cultural heritage" mean to people living in NYC?

Morganne Shelford

Will Eisner thought that a building has something to tell us about the lives of the people that built it and lived in it. "Cultural heritage" is the past in the present, and New Yorkers make a lot of effort to preserve it, sometimes even giving it a new lease of life, cf. the High line, the NYC Centre, etc. The Guggenheim, ethnic diversity, musical eclecticism, the Statue of Liberty, Harlem, are all examples of the rich cultural heritage New Yorkers have reason to be proud of. Ground Zero became “cultural heritage” because of the symbolic value New Yorkers gave it, and 1WTC will not be just another oversized office block; it will be a landmark, symbolizing New York and its people united against chaos. In NYC, each building says something about the values of New Yorkers; think of Cornell Tech, which is not just an educational establishment, it has to be the best… NYC’s cultural heritage in one word: pride.

Victor Guillon

“Cultural heritage” is viewed differently from one person to the next in NYC. For some, cultural heritage is about shared fundamental values, about keeping the city as dynamic as it has always been, recycling old places into new ones not only for the present but also for the generations to come. For others, it’s preserving, intact, what the past has bestowed upon us (cf. the Lower East Side Tenement Museum or even the NYC Center).
Besides buildings and monuments, cultural heritage also means cultural diversity. Isn’t New York the world’s capital, a Babel of ethnic groups? Its musical eclecticism and plethora of parades and festivals are its live and kicking’ cultural heritage!
New York swallows you up and makes you its own; but, since 9/11, New Yorkers also know that it is also up to them what their City is to be. They make the stones speak of what is right and wrong…

Claire Plassart

New York’s cultural heritage is about civic pride but also about dominance. NYC considers itself the world’s capital, and its buildings and monuments display this: Guggenheim, Chrysler, UN, Empire State, 1WTC, etc. New Yorkers wish to preserve their immense cultural heritage, sometimes modernizing buildings or finding new uses for redundant infrastructure (cf. the Highline project).
New York is a cosmopolitan place, each community affirming its identity through art and music. There are also massive cultural and sports events which unite the population.
NYC is a dynamic, forward-looking place, the latest example of this is the development project for Roosevelt Island. Cultural heritage for New Yorkers is not just about the past and things from the past that are still with us, it’s also about maintaining the values of hard work and the spirit of conquest inherited from those that came before. "Cultural heritage" in NYC is the imperative to build...
New Yorkers still commemorate 9/11 - they cannot afford to forget it - but they, as always, move on: 1WTC is rising up from Ground Zero…

Rémi Kondjoyan

New Yorkers have good reasons to be proud of their cultural heritage. NYC is attractive to visitors and residents alike because of its extraordinary cultural facilities and places of historic interest. But, though wanting to keep the city the way it is, New Yorkers also want to make NYC a city of the future. They are therefore modernising the town’s infrastructure and investing in research to stay competitive, building prestigious high-tech but ecologically-friendly research centres (cf. the Roosevelt Island project).
Security has become a priority, since 9/11, since Sandy. All the disaster movies which use NYC as backdrop seem all of a sudden very real… One of the results of catastrophe is to have made New Yorkers realize that their “cultural heritage” is important to them because it is not just “old buildings”, it is what they have built together over the centuries. Cultural heritage is essentially about people: who we were, are, and hope to be…
New York, the place, the people, the ideal, is synonymous with resilience and optimism, with individual opportunity, but also with necessary tolerance. Whatever part of the world you may have come from, whatever your customs, in NYC you will become a New Yorker, because NYC thrives on diversity. But NYC works - at least it does today -  because newcomers buy into a set of values and practices common to all New Yorkers, if you will, a “cultural heritage” they learn to share.

Vincent Pinneau

New York City has for a long time been the principal entry point for immigrants. Their first impression of the New World was New York; they came hoping to fulfil their personal American Dream. The result was NYC’s extraordinary cultural diversity; people from more than two hundred countries cohabit more or less peacefully in this dynamic metropolis. What all these people have in common is, to various degrees, the will to succeed; this fundamental value defines the “cultural heritage” of NYC. One example: the Manhattan skyline, so familiar the world over, is in fact ever-changing, the result of the pioneering and ambitious spirit of its inhabitants.
How New Yorkers have coped with 9/11 says much about them and how they consider their built environment; 1WTC, being constructed on the site of Ground Zero, serves as both a memorial to the victims and a symbol of New Yorkers’ defiance of terrorism and their will to build a brighter future.

Marie de Langlade

For New Yorkers, “cultural heritage” is both literally part of their everyday lives as a built environment, and part of their routine existence as a set of shared values and practices.
Some, through preservation initiatives, want to keep the City as is, to save its “soul”. Others would like to transform old landmarks into something useful, which they consider is in the spirit of their dynamic city.
NYC is undeniably multicultural. Parades, the annual marathon, and other such traditions, are at the same time an expression of the City’s unity and of its cultural diversity.
The 9/11 terrorist attack increased solidarity; in this context, “cultural heritage” took on a strong emotional significance, places and buildings becoming symbols of defiance and hope, something the inhabitants had to defend in the face of anarchy…

Elina Chandezon

New York City, futuristic metropolis, is incredibly wealthy, especially as regards its cultural heritage. New Yorkers, for obvious reasons, love NY! It is hard to tell though if all of them really appreciate how much they possess…
Some New Yorkers are keen enough to devote time and money to the preservation of the Big Apple (as much as to its development). Doesn’t the High line project show New Yorkers want to both modernize the city whilst keeping its “roots” strong?
New Yorkers use their cultural heritage, add to it everyday, and make use of it to express who they are to the world. For example, the construction of 1WTC on Ground Zero shows New Yorkers’ defiance of terrorism; it is a building that, though not yet complete, is, in a sense, already part of their cultural heritage…

Solène Gauthier

Everything in NYC is “cultural heritage”, because, whatever you look at, it is famous! Some New Yorkers are more keen than others in keeping the Big Apple beautiful; the High line is a great example of how they have made from something old, something new. This is keeping cultural heritage sites alive (by making them relevant and useful). For others, NYC is not some museum. Most people are proud of the world-wide fame of the town they have built but they don’t think about it much, not at least as a place of particular interest from a “cultural heritage” point of view. It’s just where they live and try to earn a living!

Miléna Chapot

New York’s cultural heritage is extremely diverse because the city is a “mixing bowl” of 254 different nationalities. This diversity is displayed through music and art. George Gershwin’s work epitomises this eclecticism, uniting many musical styles into one.
New York’s architecture, famous worldwide (e.g. the Statue of Liberty), is the most visible part of that cultural heritage. New Yorkers choose to preserve their cultural heritage sites by sometimes “recycling” them (for example the High line). They also create buildings and monuments in the tradition of NYC (i.e. on a grand scale such as the Roosevelt Island Project).
The tragic events of 9/11 united people and increased their determination to reconstruct, no matter the cost, the buildings which they condidered important from a cultural heritage standpoint; 1WTC will be an extraordinary landmark… In NYC, “cultural heritage” is made by the people, for the people; the affirmation of liberty is therefore an intrinsic part of it.

Simon Breillad

Cultural heritage is the customs, knowledge, behavior, and material objects (including the built environment) that are transmitted from one generation to the next… But what importance does “cultural heritage” have in New York City, where 245 countries are represented and 200 languages are spoken?
Cultural heritage is the thing that makes all those different ethnic groups live peacefully together: they have something to share. This sense of a common heritage (and destiny?) has been accentuated since the 11th September 2001… The attachment to their cultural heritage that new Yorkers feel is well represented by the festive crowds like for Thanksgiving or St Patrick’s day, when they listen to all the different styles of music or even when they give million dollar donations to help the reconstruction of an historic building. Nevertheless, in the Big Apple, newness, energy and modernity are by definition part of the cultural heritage, and so finding a new use for an old place (like the High line) is a great way to both save money and preserve the “soul” of this modern high-tech dynamic city.

Hughes Thorin

New-Yorkers don’t live with cultural heritage, they live “in” their cultural heritage! I mean that New Yorkers consider what their parents have transmitted to them and what is being built as cultural heritage. New Yorkers aren’t oppressed by their past. They live with their past in the present to drive it into the future.
For New Yorkers, everything which they associate with strong memories is cultural heritage; they have to transmit it to the next generation. These cosmopolitan inhabitants are proud of their town and want to keep it the way it is, despite their differences. It is this will to keep NYC the way it is which makes its unity. It gives a soul to the city and makes it overflow with imagination, which gives incredible inspiration to New Yorkers. It is the inspiration of today’s New Yorkers, which will inspire the artists of tomorrow.

Emma Nicolas

For New Yorkers, everything in the city is part of their cultural heritage, whether it be buildings, memorials, or architecture, or immaterial things like music, ethnic diversity, or even the city’s very soul! Some inhabitants are very involved in preservation of this common heritage, whereas others just live in New York without knowing all the efforts being made to keep it in a good state.
NYC is like the world's capital, especially as there are people from 245 countries there. This, plus  9/11 which has made for a more united city, means that the population of NYC is constantly looking forward; they create new places every day or “recycle” buildings they find important. For New Yorkers, the past needs to be present.

François Dischamp

Through music, art, architecture, etc., culture heritage seems to be omnipresent in New York. However, all New Yorkers don’t have the same conception of the term. Some consider that culture heritage is a fabulous gift from past generations that needs to be preserved for themselves, and passed on from one generation to the other. But for other New Yorkers, it is important that every generation leave a mark and try to improve the work of their forebears, New Yorkers themselves being the people in charge of this difficult mission.
New York, the city of innovation, wants to always be a step ahead of everyone. New Yorkers are keen to preserve this status and they have understood that they were the ones controlling New York’s fate.

Vianney Lepoutre

For New Yorkers, the past is what has been achieved and an example to follow; for them, time is synonymous with progress…
Buildings of importance from a cultural heritage point of view, have immense symbolic value: the Statue of the Liberty stands for hope and freedom, the Twin Towers for economic power, etc.
These places and buildings are also, more simply, places in which they live and work.
They are also reminders of past events, associated with personal and collective memories. That is perhaps the main reason they protect these buildings, even if they have to change their original function, such as for the New York City Center.
New Yorkers protect their buildings because they are a source of civic pride. This civic pride is also expressed through art and music, which is part of their rich cultural heritage.
Some feel any changes to their landmarks or traditions are an attack on the very soul of the city, on its particular atmosphere; the protests against the High line project were carried out by a few die-hard nostalgics...


Music is an essential part of the rich cultural heritage of NYC. By Simon Breillad

New York City is the most populous and cosmopolitan place in the States, so inevitably there is an incredible array of sound: Jazz, Hip Hop, Soul, Salsa, Rock, Punk, Pop and the rest.

Music in NYC is as diverse and lively as the population. For immigrants, music is a way for them to express their identity, their origins, perhaps their frustration at the poverty and prejudice they face. Generations of immigrants have added their own musical tradition and style to the already eclectic mix of the City.

Several musical styles, like Jazz, Rap, R&B, Industrial, began in the USA, showing how creative Americans are. NYC came up with the New York Blues, an urban version of the Blues (which started in rural areas of the South).

George Gershwin was a major composer from NYC. His scores mixed the musical styles of Yiddish theatre, Vaudeville, Ragtime, Operetta, Jazz, and post-Romanticism. Gershwin's music gained unprecedented international recognition.

Aaron Copeland, from Brooklyn, is another great American composer. He uses elements of American Folk music and Jazz in his compositions.

New Yorkers have reason to be proud of their musical tradition. Music is a means for them to share good moments together, to celebrate and feel part of the one city, but also a means to remember their origins and feel part of a particular ethnic community. Music is also a means of exploring new horizons. Music is living and creative cultural heritage for New Yorkers.


Did 9/11 change the way New Yorkers consider their cultural heritage? By Miléna Chapot

“ Each man reads his own meaning into New York” Meyer Berger

According to Wikipedia, cultural heritage is the attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present, and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural heritage can be tangible (buildings, monuments, art), intangible (legends, traditions, knowledge) or natural (landscapes, biodiversity).

“It isn't like the rest of the country - it is like a nation itself - more tolerant than the rest in a curious way. Littleness gets swallowed up here. All the viciousness that makes other cities vicious is sucked up and absorbed in New York.” John Steinbeck

New York’s cultural heritage may be viewed in two ways. The first, that of non-New Yorkers, it is “the city that never sleeps", “the big Apple”, the metropolis that has inspired so many artists it is almost untouchable and sacred. The second point of view is that of the New Yorker himself, whether he lives in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan. The New Yorker is proud of his heritage just as much as the Parisian is proud of Paris. However, for the New Yorker, “you start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it. (…) The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone” (in Lost and Found by Colson Whitehead).

The City should not be regarded as only having tangible cultural heritage sites, but the buildings, monuments and art also have intangible significance. It is almost as if the New Yorkers regard the city as their safety net, the one place on earth that they may call Home whatever part of the world they come from originally. Every aspect of the city is heritage, the streets, the lights, the sounds, the colors, the smell; one’s routine in the Big Apple could itself be considered as cultural.

“There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man's bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.” Walt Whitman

However, on September 11th 2001, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center changed the New Yorker’s vision of their city forever. The image of the untouchable city, sacred to those who live in it was destroyed. The reactions to the terrorist attack in the long run are mostly a reaffirmation of New Yorker’s determination to protect their city.

The impact of 9/11 extends beyond geopolitics into society and culture in general. The immediate response was a greater focus on home life and on time spent with family. Almost everyone in New York knows someone who has lost a loved one in the tragedy. The first thing every New Yorker did after the attack was to try to find in the chaos their loved ones and make sure they were safe. A higher church attendance was noted, and increasing patriotism as shown by increased display of flags. In the community, New Yorkers tend to feel more concern for each other than before. Immediately after the attack, there was a surge of solidarity. Bumper stickers declared: “United we Stand” or “Praying for the families of the victims”.

Each year, ceremonies are held on the 11th of September bringing New Yorkers together to remember in silence the tragedy that struck New York. The immense media coverage of these ceremonies shows the world that New Yorkers will not forget.

As Michael Oreskes wrote in his article New York's 9/11, and Not Letting Go : “Not only do New Yorkers morn the loss of their loved ones, they also feel differently. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, New York's prevailing mood is to resist the city's natural tides of forgetting, of moving on”.

They also decry the loss of the Twin Towers, a major part of their cultural heritage. "There is going to be a whole generation of people growing up and people who never visited New York who will have no conception whatsoever of how big the towers were, how beautiful they were and how iconic they were, how many different vantage points there were where you could see them" (anonymous).

The moment the Towers crashed to the ground, a part of New York disappeared with them. As their name suggested, they represented commerce and a city that was committed to the world, not just to the one country or army.

However, the reconstruction of an even higher tower on Ground Zero is proof to the world that New Yorkers are defiant and strong. Even though the new building is not yet finished, it is already part of the city’s heritage. The new tower’s name is 1WTC; it was going to be called the Freedom Tower. Its cost has been estimated at $3.8 billion, the most expensive tower in the world to date. New York City is giving $250 million and the remaining amount is being raised by the sale of bonds through the Port Authority. This astonishing cost demonstrates the importance New Yorkers give to affirming their culture. It shows their determination in the face of terrorism and chaos...

"The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic, and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.” Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of NYC.

Before the 11th of September 2001, New Yorkers considered the entire city to be their heritage. They considered every aspect of it as part of their culture. However, with the events of 9/11, cultural heritage took on a new significance. The people decided the fate of their city; they could have chosen to forget the tragic event or to commemorate it. They had the choice to leave the ground bare or to rebuild... It is how New Yorkers reacted that transformed what they thought cultural heritage meant. The inhabitants used to believe that the city was what made them New Yorkers, but they have come to realize that it is the people that make the place...


"Cultural heritage" in NYC essentially means cultural diversity... By Elina Chandezon

The USA was for a long time the promised land for millions of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty in NYC is the symbol of the freedom they longed for.

The Big Apple can boast that it represents virtually every single nation on Earth, its numerous communities preserving their own identities, each with its own neighborhood: Little Italy, Chinatown, Harlem, Little Germany, and the rest...

NYC is the epitome of a multicultural world city. It is perhaps the world's capital...

In New York, no single country or region or origin dominates. This diversity is due to the fact that New York was, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the principal gateway for European immigrants. Blacks and Asians also settled there. In the 40s, a large number of  Puerto Ricans and Latinos began to move to Spanish Harlem. Since the 1980s New York City has undergone substantial population growth, primarily due to new immigration from Latin America (especially the Dominican Republic), Asia, Jamaica, Haiti, Russia, and Africa.

In 2007, the City that Never Sleeps was classified as the most ethnically diverse, with approximately 245 countries represented, 200 languages spoken, 36 % of the population being foreign born. This multiculturalism has generated a large range and number of parades and holidays.

It is fascinating how so many ethnic groups can all live peacefully together...


The soul of the city... By Claire Plassart

The few people who ventured out after hurricane Sandy’s passage felt that walking in the empty streets was like being in a horror movie. Ghosts among the ruins replaced the usual crowds. People had disappeared and all sense of belonging gone. The very soul of the city had been hurt...

When visiting New York City, one always goes to Times Square or to a show on Broadway, otherwise the visit would seem incomplete. These places are crowded party places, part of a modern, joyful, entertaining New York, a city full of life. That’s how New Yorkers want their city to appear to the rest of the world. New York wants to live up to its reputation of "the city that never sleeps". New Yorkers follow the tradition, after a long day at work, of living it up at night, that’s what you do in a great metropolis! Crowds are important in New York: New Year’s Eve in Time Square, the annual marathon, and the numerous parades (St Patrick’s, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day, Halloween, Gay Pride, etc.).

Why is there such infatuation for large-scale crowded events in a city of eight million inhabitants? Maybe it’s the only way of keeping this huge and diverse population united. Indeed, this cosmopolitan city has been and still is open to immigration, welcoming Europeans, Latinos, and, more and more, Asians, all attracted by the American Dream. Different communities live in different parts of the City: Chinatown, Harlem, Little Italy, and so on. There is a need, surely, for places common to all these communities, where citizens can celebrate belonging to the one city. The City authorities know that these events help keep the city united and the people content. This feeling of a common identity must prevail, and all the big events are organized to this end.

Festive crowds are part of the cultural heritage of New York, celebrating unity and belonging, and the heart and soul of the Big Apple is a happy one, necessarily so.